VATICAN CITY, JUNE 23, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Russian President Vladimir Putin still has not responded to a personal letter from John Paul II regarding the expulsion of the Catholic bishop of eastern Siberia, a Vatican aide says.
Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican Secretary for Foreign Relations, told Vatican Radio that the Russian president gave no reasons for the sudden expulsion on April 19 of Bishop Jerzy Mazur of St. Joseph´s Diocese in Irkutsk.
Putin did not even refer to the matter when he was in Rome on May 28 for Russia´s meeting with NATO, the Vatican aide said. The Pope sent his letter May 8. The Pope received Bishop Mazur in audience June 15.
Archbishop Tauran emphasized the seriousness of the situation and referred to the commitments assumed by Russia during the 1989 Vienna Conference.
Q: Can you comment on Bishop Mazur´s expulsion? What were the reasons?
Archbishop Tauran: We can speak technically of a kind of expulsion. The question consists, precisely, in knowing the motives that led the immigration authorities of the Moscow airport to prohibit Bishop Mazur´s return to his diocese. For the time being, no one has been able to tell us what the reasons were for taking such a measure. Evidently, it is a particularly serious decision.
Q: What was the Vatican´s reaction?
Archbishop Tauran: I must say that in the face of this situation the Vatican took two initiatives.
First of all, on April 20, that is to say, practically the day after what happened, I wrote a letter to Mr. Igor Ivanov, Foreign Affairs Minister of the Russian Federation, to express our great surprise about this decision and to ask him to explain the reasons that led the immigration authorities to take such a measure.
Q: What was the Russian authorities´ response?
Archbishop Tauran: Given that up to this today I have not received a reply from Mr. Ivanov, the Pope wished to write a personal letter to President Putin to ask for virtually the same thing: to request his personal intervention so that a pastor, who from our point of view has always shown himself generous and loyal, could be restored to the Catholic community of that vast territory of the Russian Federation. President Putin has still not responded to the Pope. The letter was dated May 8.
Q: Given that there has been no response to the two official letters, are we faced with a diplomatic accident?
Archbishop Tauran: I don´t like to use the expression “diplomatic accident.” I believe in what I said in my letter to Minister Ivanov: The Russian Federation has adhered to the final document of the Vienna Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe — a document that is dated January 1989.
In the first part of the document, Paragraph 7 says that the participant states, therefore, Russia, “will respect the right of communities of believers and of the participant states” — hence the believers of the Russian Federation — “to establish and maintain places of worship or meeting that are freely accessible; to organize themselves according to their institutional particularities; to choose, appoint and replace their personnel according to their own needs and rules, as well as to respect all agreements established freely between them and the state.”
Therefore, I think the Russian Federation will be faithful to the commitments it has assumed before the international community.
Q: How are the Catholics of Irkutsk without a bishop?
Archbishop Tauran: We certainly cannot underestimate the despair felt by Catholics of that diocese. We can already see that the absence of the bishop has very concrete repercussions on the life of the Catholic community.
Therefore, I think it is important that the Russian authorities realize the seriousness of this situation. In any case, we do not lose a single occasion to let them know, either through the mediation of the apostolic nuncio in Moscow or through the mediation of the ambassador accredited to the Vatican.
Q: Is Bishop Mazur´s case an isolated one?
Archbishop Tauran: It is the second case, as at the beginning of the year Father Stefano Caprio was not allowed to return to his Moscow parish. To date we have not received a single explanation about the decision taken against him.
Q: What would you like to add before concluding this interview?
Archbishop Tauran: I would say that everyone in Russia needs the witness of a Christian life, and this cannot be offered by confining in this way the activities of a community that, I would like to remind, is a historical community — the Catholic Church has not just arrived in Russia.
We have had parishes and dioceses [there] for centuries. The only thing we ask is to be able to serve our Catholics. Our sole ambition is to be at the service of those Catholics, who are Russian Catholics, and who want to be Catholics in the service of their country and of all the peoples who reside in it.